The Case Against the Woman Who Dared to Give Water to Someone Else’s Pigs

Is it possible for us to provide a bit of humane treatment to livestock? They may have to prove they can fly first.
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(Photo: Courtesy of Anita Krajnc)

(Photo: Courtesy of Anita Krajnc)

On June 22, Anita Krajnc, a Canadian animal rights advocate, stood on the side of the road leading to Fearmans Pork Incorporated, a slaughter plant in Burlington, Ontario. Krajnc was, as she puts it, “keeping vigil” with a few other activists as truckloads of pigs were hauled to an abattoir that processes between 8,000 and 10,000 animals daily.

The afternoon was unusually hot—Ontario was in the midst of a heat wave—and, through the slats of a truck sitting at a red light, Krajnc recalls noticing that several pigs were panting, foaming at the mouth, and “looking at us for help.” She walked to the traffic island, approached the side of the truck, and gave several pigs water from a water bottle. “I didn’t think much of it,” Krajnc says.

But the truck driver, who saw Krajnc water the pigs, certainly did. “Do not put water in there,” he yelled, jumping out of his truck. “If you give them water again,” he told her, “I’ll slap the bottle out of your hands.” Fuming, he asked Krajnc, “What’s in the water?” She responded, bemusedly, “Water!” When Krajnc asked the driver to have a little compassion for the poor animals, he said to her, she says, “These are not humans you dumb frickin’ broad.”

Anita Krajnc’s case appears to be yet another example of North American corporations using state power to intimidate peaceful attempts to promote animal welfare.

Krajnc, who holds a Ph.D. in political science and is a careful student of the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, says that the panting pigs put her in the mind of Matthew 25:35: “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” She also noted that her organization, Toronto Pig Save, modeled itself on the peaceful protest strategies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. “We are not angry,” she says. “We are not judgmental.” Her vigils, which she’s been leading three times a week (without fail) since 2011, are popular with several local grandmothers. “The public sympathizes with this,” Krajnc says.

But the owner of the pigs, Van Boekel Hog Farms, evidently doesn’t. Although Eric Van Boekel told the Guardian “we don’t have a fight with the protesters per se,” in early September a Toronto police officer knocked on Krajnc’s apartment door and delivered her a summons to appear in court. She was being charged with criminal mischief. “I simply couldn’t believe it—I was being charged for giving thirsty pigs water,” she says. “How is it an offense to give thirsty pigs water?”

“It’s the most general charge in the Canadian criminal code,” Gary Grill, one of Krajnc’s attorneys, says about criminal mischief. “It appears, in this case, that the mischief is interference with private property.” Given this charge, Krajnc’s case appears to be yet another example of North American corporations using state power to intimidate peaceful attempts to promote animal welfare. Although Grill can’t speculate that the law was intentionally being used to clamp down on the free expression of animal rights protesters, he agrees that, if it was being applied as such, “this would seem to be an abusive use of the law.”

Much like those charged under ag-gag laws in the United States, Krajnc finds herself at the center of a larger debate about citizens’ right to challenge corporate behavior when they believe that the laws regulating those companies are either inadequate or unjust. (Disclosure: I was a plaintiff in a case that overturned Idaho’s ag-gag law earlier this year.) One imagines that Krajnc’s case will—when heard—hinge on a technicality of trespass: That is, did she reach in the truck or did the pig reach out of the truck to get the water? But one also hopes that the underlying issue doesn’t get lost. This is a case about the average citizen’s right to keep the corporations that feed us honest.

In September, a judicial pre-trial determined that Krajnc’s case should go forward. Today, the Crown will determine whether the charge against Krajnc will be an indictable offense (which is sort of like a federal charge in the U.S.) or be subject to more of a misdemeanor-like punishment. If the former, she could spend 10 years in prison for feeding a thirsty pig water.

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The Things We Eat is a regular Pacific Standard column from James McWilliams on food, agriculture, and the American diet.

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